Originally created 05/29/03

God's phone number in 'Bruce Almighty' annoys like the devil



TAMPA, Fla. -- Talk about an almighty pain.

A lot of mortal folks who happen to share God's telephone number - or at least the one He uses in the hit comedy "Bruce Almighty" - have spent days taking calls from curious dialers, snickering cranks and desperate souls seeking legitimate divine intervention.

The phone number - 776-2323 - is repeatedly displayed on a pager belonging to Jim Carrey's character, TV news reporter Bruce Nolan, as God tries to summon him. God, played by actor Morgan Freeman, ends up endowing Bruce with his powers, allowing him to perform such feats as toilet-training his dog and parting a bowl of tomato soup like the Red Sea.

Many moviegoers who remembered the number put it to work in their own area codes.

A woman in Pinellas Park, Fla., has threatened to hire an attorney to sue the movie studio because of the 20 calls per hour clogging her cell phone. A Denver radio network was still getting dozens of calls Wednesday, five days after the movie hit theaters.

In Sanford, N.C., about 50 miles southwest of Raleigh, the listing belongs to a church whose minister is actually named Bruce. And he is not amused.

"It's a movie that mocks God and makes a mockery of religion," said the Rev. Bruce MacInnes, pastor of Turner's Chapel Church. "I'm not too thrilled with it at all. But the Lord God is one that could use something that's meant for evil and turn it around for good. So this may very well be the reason that that number showed up."

Universal Pictures, which reaped $85.7 million in the film's four-day opening, said in a statement Wednesday that the phone number was chosen because it does not exists in the Buffalo, N.Y., area, where the movie is set. The studio offered no further comment. Usually, movies and TV shows use the bogus 555 exchange.

A database search turned up more than 30 listings nationwide for 776-2323.

In Cornelia, Ga., the number belongs to the Rev. Patrick Collington, an evangelist who runs Souls for Christ Ministries. His wife, Tracy, said they've gotten about 100 calls since Friday - mostly people asking for God and hanging up - but they're not bothered.

The family went to see the movie Tuesday night and loved it.

"It was funny, and knowing God's phone number was our number was really something to be excited about," she said.

Donna Augustin of Parrish, Fla., said her family has gotten about 200 God calls since Friday. Her three children think it's a hoot. A new message on their answering machine informs callers that they've reached "God's messenger" and should "call Jim Carrey" instead.

She said some callers just hang up. When the machine picks up, some leave messages ranging from sweet to obscene. Most try to come up with something funny. One guy wanted to know when God would answer his prayers and make him a famous porn star.

"I think God must be sending us a message here, although I'm not sure what it is," she quipped.

In Denver, the Colorado Radio Network's nine lines started lighting up Monday with God callers, many of whom seemed to think they found a direct line to Him, according to Ron Nickel, the network's senior vice president.

"God, I really need to talk to you," one woman said in a message. "I need to repent because I've cheated on my husband five times, but I guess all of us people who are prostitutes eventually cheat on our husbands."

Nickel said the network of five stations plans to turn the whole thing into a contest. Listeners will be asked what they would say to God if they could call Him, with the host of the stations' only religious show picking the winner.

"This just dropped right out of the sky into our lap," Nickel said. "We would have to be stupid to get angry."